When you participate in an ultramarathon, you are, in effect, pushing your body to its limits. Therefore you need to take an intelligent approach to endurance nutrition. A well-planned and thoroughly tested fuelling strategy can be the difference between a dreaded bonk and a DNF or crossing the line after 15/20/30 hours. This guide will look at some of the best ultra running fuel & nutrition drinks available.
Table of Contents: Fuel & Nutrition Drinks
Best Ultra Running Electrolytes Fuels - Drink Based
I define base fuelling as the primary source of fuel and energy during a long run or ultramarathon event. My base source is an energy drink or powder mix, which is added to water and popped into my flasks on the front of my Salomon Active Skin 4 ultrarunning vest. I recommend going for a complete fuelling solution if you go for a powder mix that includes carbohydrates and electrolytes. I use these powder mixes but also like to top them up with real food.
Below are my top picks for base fuelling in powder mix or drink formula. If the brand offers them, I would suggest buying starter packs. Doing so will allow you to try and test the many flavours they have.
Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel
Revival Rapid Rehydration Electrolytes Powder
Active Root Energy & Hydration
Precision Hydration Drinks Mix
Skratch Labs Sports Mix
Why Finding The Right Ultra Running Fuel Is Important?
Research by Research in Sports Medicine found that 60-96 per cent of ultra-athletes experience gastrointestinal issues like bloating, stomach pain and vomiting in workouts that tasted over four hours.
That’s because when you work out and, in our case, run, your blood flow goes towards your working muscles (legs), and the amount of blood going to your stomach reduces, meaning it may not function as expected.
You might suffer from GI problems if you take on board too many synthetic products with artificial ingredients or overeat the wrong food
Therefore it’s a good idea to try and mix up your nutritional sources, eating real food in suitable formats as well as finding the best ultra running fuel for you.
The most important nutrient during endurance exercise is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the body’s favourite fuel source stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. When exercising for over 90 minutes, these stores become depleted, and fatigue creeps up. To keep going and finish the race, you must keep your glycogen stores topped up by regularly fuelling.
Test Your Ultra Running Fuel Strategy Before The Race
One of the golden rules is to practise and try out the specific products you are thinking about using. It might be that your body doesn’t like a specific brand or a particular type of product.
We recommend testing your energy drinks during training, especially on longer runs. Doing so will help you learn what does and does not work for you. A specific brand or flavour might feel easy to drink in the first 15 miles of an ultra; however, how does it feel when you get to 30, 40 and 50 miles? Try to train in similar conditions to those you are likely to encounter on race day, e.g. terrain, altitude, temperature, to see how this affects your appetite and eating ability.
Another good tip is to try different flavours when looking for the best ultra-running fuel because, trust me, your pallet and tastes will change throughout the race. My personal favourite flavour is lemon, which is tangy and citrusy. However, after drinking that for 6 hours or more, I can get bored of the taste and find it harder to swallow. If this happens, you might start to neglect nutrition, which can lead to the dreaded bonk. Therefore, I have a second flavour – Berry, which has a mild and sweeter taste. I start the race with both – one flavour in each soft flask on my hydration vest. Don’t get creative and experiment with new products on race day – stick to the nutrition plan.
How Much Fuel Intake Do I Need During A Race
Longer races require you to consume more energy and fuel. The ISSN Research Paper recommends consuming 150-300 kcals/hr for events up to 50 miles (80km) and around 200-400 kcals/hr for more extended events. If you are taking in less than 200 kcals/hr consistently, e.g. because you feel nauseous, you are compromising your chances of finishing the race. You will need to force yourself to drink or eat at times. Many runners set up an alert on their sports watches to remind them to fuel up.
During a slower-paced event, you will use fat for energy for extended periods, sparing your carbohydrate stores. But there is still a risk of depletion of glycogen if you work too hard and poorly manage your nutrition. Higher temperatures and altitude will also result in greater use of carbohydrates.
How Often Should To Fuel During A Ultramarathon Race
Start your fuelling strategy at the start of the race, and never let your self get behind on nutrition. You will start burning away your energy stores from your first few miles or kilometres, and you need to keep them topped up.
From then on, aim to fuel a little and often. Carbohydrates sources can take up to 15 minutes to absorb into the bloodstream, so don’t leave it until fatigue kicks in—fuel for the trail ahead, not the trail you are covering now. Just because you don’t feel hungry or lack energy now does not mean your body doesn’t need it. It is vital to feed and drink before you get hungry or thirsty.
What If I Find It Hard To Eat During A Ultra Event
We’ve all been there during longer-running events. Towards the backend of an ultra-endurance event, when racked up a ton of miles, it can sometimes be impossible to eat, and forcing food or a gel down can make you nauseous. In these cases, you may find a sports drink easier to swallow. Regardless, you must fuel and eat or drink something, try even smaller sips, so it feels easier on your stomach.
Other Ultra Runnig Fueling Options
If you want more options, take a look at the Veloforte review we’ve just released. We’ve fully tested their range of endurance sports nutrition and have now posted a stand-alone guide to each product. We’ll be looking to update this page soon, but in the meantime, use the link above and look at the Veloforte energy gels, bars, chews and electrolyte powder drinks designed to meet the demands of athletes and adventurers.
Best Ultra Running Fuel & Nutrition - Concluding Tips
- Eat Little & Often – this will keep you topped up and help avoid tummy meltdown.
- Variety – flavours, textures, sweet and savoury will help you avoid palate fatigue.
- Don’t Wait Until You Get Light Headed– it’s too late if your knees go wobbly.
- Don’t Rely On Aid Stations – it can be tempting to only eat and fuel at aid stations, but that can be a massive mistake. Your body needs fuel through the race, not every 8 or 10 miles.
- Know The Terrain – if you know there’s a big climb coming up, for example, make sure you eat to give you the energy to get to the top.
- Eat As You Move – unless you’re elite and scoffing on the move, in running ultra events, it can be helpful to eat during walk breaks and to walk out of aid stations if you’ve just filled your belly. Doing so will help everything digest and makes the whole process much more manageable.
- Make Fuel Easy To Reach – If you use a running vest (you should), have a small selection of fuel in the front pockets.
- Mix It Up – Try and eat natural foods and your energy mix drink. I like to eat bananas, pineapple and olives (soaked in olive oil).
Disclaimer: This guide contains affiliate links, and I earn a small commission from any sale that occurs via my links. This, however, does not change my opinion; I always do my best to provide the facts and suggest products that will benefit my users. You pay no more and no less for using these links. It does, however, help to sustain my blog.